17 February 2019

Nigeria: Shocking Election Postponement

opinion

The postponement and rescheduling of yesterday's scheduled presidential and National Assembly elections, only a few hours before the polls opened, caused shock, anxiety and frustration all across this country. Although there were media speculations on Friday evening, the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] only confirmed at 2.30 in the morning that the polls had been postponed. The presidential and National Assembly polls will now hold on Saturday, February 23 while the governorship, state assembly and FCT area council elections earlier scheduled for Saturday, March 2 will now hold on Saturday, March 9. It blamed "logistics and operational" factors for the shift.

All the major stakeholders have expressed frustration with the postponement. President Muhammadu Buhari said in Daura that he was "deeply disappointed" that "despite the long notice given and our preparations both locally and internationally," INEC postponed the election hours before it started. INEC, he said, "have given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections."

Director of Strategic Communication of APC's Presidential Campaign Council Festus Keyamo expressed APC's "great disappointment" with the shift. He said, "We condemn and deprecate this tardiness of the electoral umpire in the strongest terms possible... This news is a huge disappointment to us... We do not want to be forced to a situation of announcing our total loss of confidence in INEC." Keyamo added that "the rumor mill is agog with the suggestion that this postponement has been orchestrated in collusion with the main opposition, the PDP, that was never ready for this election."

However, PDP said the postponement was a plot by the ruling APC "to perfect its rigging plans in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari." PDP's Director of Media and Publicity Kola Ologbondiyan said the action was taken with President Buhari's knowledge because he was "jittery and afraid of defeat." PDP's presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar also said, "This postponement is a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob. By instigating this postponement, the Buhari administration hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turn out is low on the rescheduled date. Nigerians must frustrate their plans by coming out in even greater numbers" on the rescheduled dates. Atiku added that "Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further anti-democratic acts."

Addressing stakeholders in Abuja yesterday, INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu blamed the volume of materials to be moved, unfavourable weather in the past week which made it difficult for planes to land in some locations as well as fire that gutted INEC offices in three states for the inability to meet the deadline. This did not sound like very compelling excuses. A fire in two local government offices out of 774 and in one state office out of 37 should not imperil the elections. Bad weather in one week is also difficult to accept because the election time table was issued a year ago and delivering election materials to states should not have been left until the last four days. It is true that INEC postponed elections in 2011 and in 2015, but the lessons therefrom should have been learnt and should not have been allowed to reoccur.

The losses incurred by candidates and political parties, by individuals who travelled far to cast their votes, commercial enterprises and educational institutions that closed down for the election as well INEC itself are colossal and must amount to billions if not trillions of naira. Even after the polls were postponed, most Nigerians still stayed at home and there were reports of deserted streets in towns and cities all over the country. The possibility exists that the rescheduled polls will record a lower voter turnout because many people who made sacrifices this weekend may be unable or unwilling to do so again. Still, we join the Chairman of the National Peace Council, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and other persons of goodwill in urging fellow Nigerians to accept what happened as destined and to join hands and move forward. Those calling for the resignation of the INEC Chairman have not thought carefully about it because his quitting will throw the entire election plans in peril.

We also urge those Nigerians that are throwing up fantastic conspiracy theories to please take it easy. The Electoral Commission is made up of diverse persons all of whom had good and honourable records in their previous careers. We do not believe that such an assembly of persons can come together and connive with one political party or another and plot to subvert the will of the Nigerian people. To that extent, they should be assisted to correct the mistakes made and to bring this huge effort to a successful conclusion. Spinning conspiracy theories without a shred of evidence will only compound rather than ameliorate our problems.

Finally, we urge INEC and stakeholders to take a very good and honest look at the rescheduled election dates. While there is obviously pressure, as well as legal constraints to try to hold these elections as soon as possible, they should weigh very carefully if one week's delay is enough to hold these polls. If it is not, INEC should say so latest by tomorrow. The worst thing that can happen now is for us to fix and then fail to hold these polls successfully next Saturday.

Nigeria

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